Editorial | Flames of Notre-Dame should not swallow hunger

The fire at the Notre-Dame Cathedral last week is certainly a tragedy.

A world-renowned tourist attraction and one of France’s most prized architectural jewels, the cathedral drew over 12 million sightseers every year. Visitors would gaze at the iconic spire and beautiful stained-glass windows, marveling at the masterpiece of human construction.

The charred ruins now standing in the place of the once-magnificent Notre-Dame serve as a sad reminder of the Catholic symbol’s former glory.        

But when the sun sets at the end of the day, the cathedral is, and was, just a building. Replaceable, material, inanimate, unfeeling. Yet, within a week of the building’s destruction, the world’s super-rich have pledged over $1 billion to rebuild it.

While many might consider this a noble philanthropic endeavor and even a global cooperative effort, it isn’t. These donation efforts highlight peoples’ lack of attention to other crises across the globe.

It is not a crime to donate to the restoration of world wonders, nor should it be.

But to immediately jump at the opportunity to fork over millions for a building while physical, living humans suffer in hunger is intolerable.

It is also not a crime to have money. But to sit on such a mountain of green while actual, breathing humans wallow in poverty is equally inexcusable.

Nearly 800 million people live in famine globally, and a billion dollars is more than enough to send each one of these human beings a McChicken. (Not that McChickens are the answer to world hunger, but just to put the sheer amount of money in perspective.)

More realistically, however, that money could buy 4 billion meals for the non-profit organization Feed My Starving Children to package and distribute. This would equate to just over five meals per person in need. Such aid could really make a difference in the fight against hunger.

The Borgen Project estimates $30 billion a year would be enough to end world hunger. If the reconstruction of a building can raise over $1 billion in financial support in less than a week, starvation should have died a quick death decades ago.   

Yes, the Notre-Dame cathedral wasn’t just any building; it was an exceptional cultural pillar with historical significance. But it was still a material structure, unliving and definitely not “priceless” as the current donations have proven.

Only life is priceless, yet people with the means to help save lives remain more reluctant to preserve it than they are to repair a building.

When buildings become more important than people, the very beings they were built to shelter, the world is truly lost, even more decrepit than the burned-out shell of the Notre-Dame Cathedral.